People had been expecting some more pardons as President Donald Trump barrels noisily off the stage. But this one feels, at least to local biologists, more like the surprise handing down of a death sentence.
Last week, as people and politicians alike were consumed with the fallout of the Capitol riot, the Trump administration put out a “midnight regulation” — a sweeping rule change on your way out the door — that slams the Northwest’s signature, struggling northern spotted owl.
“It’s likely to be the elimination of northern spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest,” says Dave Werntz, a forest ecologist with the Seattle environmental group Conservation Northwest. “It came out of the blue.”
What happened is the Interior Department had proposed, last summer, a relatively mild rollback in what’s called “critical habitat” for the owl, which is on the endangered species list. These protections bar most, though not all, logging of old-growth forest — those classic cathedrals of moss-covered, hundred-plus-year-old trees.
The proposal was to reopen to logging about 200,000 acres solely in Oregon. But then last week, the feds shocked just about everyone by removing from protected status not just the 200,000 acres in Oregon, but 3.4 million acres across three states — more than one-third of the land set aside for the owl. This includes more than half a million acres of protected lands in the Cascades in Washington, in three national forests.